In one country I visited, driving was a terrifying experience. People did not pay attention to stoplights or lanes. Cars would veer into oncoming traffic to make a turn. For me, coming from the suburbs in the United States, it seemed chaotic. I asked a local, “Are there traffic laws?” He responded, “Oh, yes. We have laws, but no one ever enforces them.”
Leviticus 18 and 19 presented us with laws covering many different aspects of life. A natural follow-up question is, “What happens if a law was broken?” Today’s reading outlines the consequences of disobedience. The modern reader might be surprised at how many infractions resulted in the death penalty.
The death penalty was reserved for behaviors that fundamentally broke God’s covenant with Israel. Every case of the death penalty can be tied directly to one of the Ten Commandments. For example, sacrificing children to Molek broke the command against murder and against worshiping other gods (vv. 1–5). This was a serious infraction that put the whole community at risk of God’s judgment. Dishonoring one’s parents and adultery also required the death penalty (vv. 9–10).
Israel did not require the death penalty as often as other ancient cultures. For example, it was not required for matters of property like theft. People were considered more important than objects. Even so, the reason for severe consequences was that Israel would be holy, set apart for God (v. 26). Israel was to act differently than the nations around them (v. 23). If they wanted to live in the land under God’s blessing, they needed to follow His covenant regulations (vv. 22–24).
>> Since the church is not under the Mosaic covenant and is also not a political entity in the way Israel was, these consequences are no longer in force. However, they remind us that God takes sin seriously. It should also make us deeply grateful that Jesus bore the penalty for sin on our behalf (Gal. 3:13).
As Your church, Jesus, we are called to be holy. You have freed us from the obligations of the Law. Help us be faithful in the mandates that apply to us. By Your grace, let us live above reproach, loving You.